Thursday, December 4, 2008

New home for the Skunkworks blog

The Skunkworks blog has moved to its new locally-hosted home,

Please update your bookmarks if you would like to continue following the posts.

Friday, November 21, 2008

skunkworks mombasa

Imagine holding BarCamp at a beach hotel – a perfect get-away excuse from the hassle and bustle of Nairobi. This may be possible from next year, courtesy of brand new Skunkworks-Mombasa branch.

A group of coast IT professionals, formerly called "tee-em", has decided to adopt Skunkworks "brand" seeking to collaborate and synergize with Nairobi-based Skunkworks-Kenya. "We will be needing a wiki for that, but will look into it, will try get a page setup on from the Nairobi guys," reads a message on their member's mailing list.

Greeting the news, Josiah Mugambi said, "I was wondering how long skunkworks would get less Nairobi centric and this would be a good idea. Then later maybe a Skunkworks Nakuru, Eldoret, Embu, Kisumu... and I can't resist this one: Skunkworks Kogelo."

On use of  the "Skunkworks" name, Michuki Mwangi said "You are most welcome to organize and have a Skunkworks-Mombasa  in actual sense you can adopt the name since no one has trade mark rights over the name other than Lockheed-Martin."

Their coordinator, Arthur Simiyu, hopes they could BarCamp next. He invites coast-based techies to their meeting scheduled next Saturday at the Kenya Industrial Training College(KITC), opposite the Kenya Revenue Training Institute (customs) along the Mombasa - Malindi Road from 2pm.

And Riyaz Bachani promises them hookup with Mombasa Polytechnic techie community and says that he looks forward to attending their meetings, if scheduled on weekends.

We welcome Skunkworks Mombasa wishing them well in crystallizing and nurturing emerging innovation. While remembering that skunkworks, work under very difficult conditions to produce amazing results.

Alex Gakuru

Thursday, October 9, 2008

skunkworks@innovation event recap

note - new blog is here:

Visit Erik's blog and Alex Gakuru's blog for more coverage of the event.

(Special thanks to Ngaara Nelson (ngaara (at) for the logo design)

Part 1 of Demos:

John Maina kicked off the presentations with a talk on Education Tourism. He made the argument that Kenya loses so much money as people seek education abroad (even if its in next door Uganda), yet Kenya has arguably the best equipped educational institutions. However Kenya's marketing itself as an educational destination is hardly done. Quite thought provoking. Download the entire presentation in Microsoft PPT 2003 format.

John Maina.View full album online

Kenneth Mwangi, a final year student at Strathmore University next made a presentation on Tulipe, an E-Commerce Framework for Payments. He quoted Isaac Newton - 'Standing on the Shoulders' of giants, to refer to how his prototype rides on existing systems that are widely in use, for instance Safaricom's MPESA and the highly successful Equity Bank. The prototype is intended to be operator agnostic and merchant (bank) agnostic which would indeed be a novel achievement, and something that the market has been waiting for. Erik's blog also covers this presentation. Download the entire presentation in PDF format. (Image courtesy of

e-commerce framework

Fabian Owuor and Andrew Ketoyo of Metrocomia EA then made a presentation on an E-Book based solution that aims to ease the collection and dissemination of information. Some of the problems that they identified as being solvable with this E-Book, include national examinations (keeping in mind the number of subjects people study as well as the popularity of past papers), a staff training handbook and publications - for instance the Kenya Gazette. Download the entire presentation in Microsoft PPT 2003 format.

Fabian Owuor View full album online

Sam Kitonyi (UON) and Victor Murage (Africa Nazarene University) nexted presented Kikwe, a way to send airtime across Africa. Kikwe allows anyone to send airtime to a loved one online from the comfort of one's desk. It allows sending of airtime to any network and provides an easy to use interface. Some of the challenges that the team has identified include the risk of fraud and the development of partnerships in Africa. Download the entire presentation in Microsoft PPT 2007 format.

Sam and Victor. View full album online

Ken Kasina started by running a video demo of Wesley Kiriinya's Game, The Adventures of Nyangi. This was a show case of the talent and potential available locally, especially as game development requires a high level of technical skill. During the question and answer session after this demo, Wesley (who was not present) and other game developers were challenged to enhance the quality of their games to bring them up to par with other internationally available games. Ken Kasina also talked about the localization of software, particularly FOSS applications. He has been heavily involved in several localization projects including that of KDE. Being also a highly skilled developer, he's also an active contributor to various FOSS projects. He urged those present to consider contributing to localisation of various software as this would enhance the adoption of information technology countrywide.

Ken Kasina & Erik Hersmann. View full album online

Mugambi Kimathi, CEO of VST Studios made a presentation on Jahazi. Jahazi aims at enabling people who are not familiar with the internet to be able to take advantage of what the internet has to offer from an easy to use interface. Mugambi took those present through the various features of jahazi, which currently is available for Windows based systems. One other key feature of jahazi is its ability to allow any software developer to create applications for any use (e.g. online booking for an airline like KQ, or a stocks watchlist) thus opening up the platform for any individual or user to tap into. The full presentation is available online here.

The team. View full album online

Charles Gathii, the MD of Microhouse Technologies next talked about his company. Microhouse provide solutions to various enterprises, among them various companies (like the hosts Sarova Panafrica) and educational institutions. Majority of the software development is done locally by local developers. Charles urged students interested in doing database development to learn and master oracle, and get certified as there is a shortage of skilled labour in this area in Kenya.

Charles Gathii. View full album online

Bonn Ndegwa of Unwired Technologies next made a presentation on Time Tabler, a low cost timetabler tat is designed for use by institutions that do not have a large budget for information technology products. Interesting to note was the fact that the company is not based in Nairobi, like majority of IT firms in Kneya, but in Western Kenya. They specialize in developing solutions for rural communities. Download the entire presentation in Microsoft PPT 2003 format.

Bonn Ndegwa. View full album online

Josh Jingo then made a presentation on and the possibilities locally. Using tools like blender and having the right amount of skill, one could easily come up with high quality animations (as was aptly demonstated). He however noted that one of the greatest challenges facing them was the fact that many media houses, and those seeking to have animations created for television opt to go abroad (for instance to India and South Africa), yet there was sufficient talent and ability locally.


We then broke for lunch, which was co-sponsored by Safaricom, Kenya ICT Board and the Ministry of Information and Communications. (KICTB promised lunches for everyone (skunkworks..) who comes to the next such meeting)

After lunch, there was a brief lightning round session of 2-3 minute random talks from participants for about 15 minutes.

Alex Gakuru then came up to talk about the main purpose of the event which was to enhance linkages between software developers and solution providers, and those in need of solutions as well as industry leaders. He then welcomed representatives of the sponsors of the event to give brief speeches. The sponsors of the event where the KENIC, Wananchi Group, Strathmore University, Kenya ICT Board and Safaricom. Many thanks go to them for enabling this event to be a success.

Alex Gakuru View full album online

Alex then welcomed Telkom Kenya CEO Dominique Saint-Jean to make some remarks. Mr Dominique was pleasantly surprised by the 'positive energy' he experienced when entering the room, which is a testament to the enthusiasm of those present at the event. He emphasised on the importance of local content saying that it is imperative that more local content be developed. He also promised to listen serious proposals from local developers within a 'reasonable time frame'. Many thanks to Dominique Saint-Jean for sparing time to grace the event.

Mr. Dominique Saint-JeanView full album online

Finally, the PS, Information and Technology, Dr. Bitange Ndemo made his keynote address. He mentioned that he would have loved to be present from the beginning of the forum but was not able to . He said that more opportunities and forums are needed for exchange of ideas and proposed that every two months, a forum similar to this take place. He also mentioned that there is going to be a huge demand for talent in the outsourcing and software development arenas, something in the region of 5000-10000 new people over the next five years. He challenged local developers to come up with a local game - like 'ajua' that is unique to Kenya. Many thanks to the PS for taking time out of his busy schedule to come to the event, and also for the support he has been.

PS Dr Bitange Ndemo View full album online

Part two of demos then commenced:

Ngigi Waithaka of Alliance Technologies got the second part of presentations going. Alliance Technologies specializes enterprise grade solutions for companies, NGO's and educational institutions. Ngigi has also been at the forefront in promoting FOSS based solutions, and Alliance Technologies also conducts the deployment of open source systems such as ERPs. Ultima Gratis, a grant management system was show cased. Download the entire presentation in Microsoft PPT 2003 format.

Ngigi Waithaka. View full album online

Laban Mwangi, Penguin Labs - An Electronic Top-Up system using a terminal running an embedded version of Linux and capable of connecting to multiple operators by simply switching sim cards, and features a web browser among other things. The aim of this demonstration was to show an easy way of performing airtime distribution. It also show cased a practical application of Linux in an embedded device. Remote top up of airtime is also possible with this device. Download the entire presentation in PDF format.

Laban (centre). View full album online

Steve Mutinda next made a presentation on Mobile Social Networking and a Mobile Finance application. Steve is a talented mobile applications developer and has come up with a framework that allows various applications to be installed on a supported mobile device and range from social networking, chat, news and mobile finance. What he has come up with for the mobile phone is very much similar to what Mugambi has done with Jahazi. He also demostrated his Mobile Finance application which easily plugged in to the framework. Steve is also a member of the ushahidi dev team. Download the Social Networking presentation and the Mobile Finance presentation, both in PDF format.

Steve. View full album online

Mbugua Njihia, CEO Symbiotic Media Consortium next demonstrated some of their products; tumasms, zunguka, kelelemobile among others. Symbiotic aims to converge mobile and the web, and provide services and applications that any ordinary person can use. Some of these include sync services for mobile phone contacts and notes, bulk sms, mobile phone ring tones, and later on, possibly video on demand services. Download his presention here in PDF format.

Timothy Mbugua. View full album online

Evans Ikua representing the LPA Kenya and LANet Consulting made the final presentation. He gave a brief history of the LPA kenya, as well as some of the activities they are involved in. Currently LPA Kenya has been instrumental in constructively engaging the Government, specifically regarding the procurement of software so as to ensure that there is a level playing ground, and thus allow local software development houses, especially those utilizing Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) to be able to pitch for Government contracts. Government is the largest employer, and offers the largest number of contracts, therefore it is important for the Public Procument process to be as transparent as possible. Download his entire presentation in OpenOffice ODP format.

Evans View full album online


Finally, Paul Kukubo the CEO of the Kenya ICT Board had some final words for developers. He promised that, as an ICT Board initiative he intends in 6-8 months that a CEO s - Skunkworks partnership forum take place. This would go a long way in bridging the gap between developers/solution providers and industry leaders. He also mentioned that a fund to support local content development is being setup. He challenged skunkworks to come up with a Directory/Portal of developers, solutioneers etc on skunkworks for easy access by CEO s, and those seeking solutions. He mentioned some challenges from his experience for ICT startups:

  • No framework to govern Venture Capital

  • Cultural divide - where no chance is given to young people (developers etc)

Paul Kukubo View full album online

Thursday, October 2, 2008

skunkworks@innovation - 4th October

Alex Gakuru has been very busy co-ordinating this event scheduled for 4th October @ the Sarova Panafric Hotel.

What to expect on Saturday? Below is what we've come up with.

-Two separate rooms 1 for demos, other just lunch room
-Event starts at 8 am and runs till 4 pm
-Demonstrations room open to the public throughout the day
-A tables shall be allocated to every solution presenter/demo
-Skunkers luncheon at a different room between 12:00-2:00pm

Here's some more detail from what he'd posted on the mailing list:

It was not easy to find it! Neither was it easy to convince them, but
they finally bought into the idea.

After our sustained "support local software development!" screams,
they now say "ok." Lending us their ears and eyes, they want to see
the "wonderful software skunkworks have been screaming about??? They
have their cheque books ready and balk contract forms prepared to
sign-up your software purchase deals if impressed. Who are they, top
notch local industry executives.

Accompanied by senior government officials with state corporations
execs all supportive of homegrown software innovations. All ready to
work on removing every hiccup in your way of making it big time on
software development. It's what we've all been shrieking about and now
we have a chance of a life time.

Calling for "Innovative IT solutions"

Categories (thus far):
1.Corporate solutions
2.Mobile applications
3.Content applications
4.Document Management System – DMS (FOSS based?)
5.Communications (*Asterix* etc..)
6.Public Service Apps
7.Games ( Wesley et. al..)

Who qualifies?
- All local software developers.
- All previous Barcamp presentations automatically ( how many? categories
- (Non-discrimination!) FOSS and proprietary platforms developers with
- Priority will be given with those with applications to demonstrate

Luncheon proposed for Saturday 27 September, 2008, city hotel venue TBC.

Toying around with branding; "skunkworks@innovation," "Homegrown
Software Fete", chip-in?

They want to meet famous skunks -buy them a lunch or dinner- which was
ok, but considering that we should overwhelm them with our abundant
innovation, I have (singly) decided there will be 20 tables for
demonstrations. Total spaces are limited (but if I receive
overwhelming "innovative IT Solutions" demonstrations
applications...That would be a wonderful problem for me to solve:)

@josiah,@mich, @riyaz, @kiania et. al. compile past software presentations
@newbies send your participation request to me outlining your software
specs... will consult and revert. Process will be open and transparent
on first-come-first assured basis. (And of course "entrance fee" is
free - all expenses paid:)

Therefore, beg or borrow those laptops (just don't steal:) and make
sure your fine-tuned software is running smoothly, ok? Come and show
off your coding brains and seal sales deals live! What else you could
you ask for?

We're 4 years behind Brazil and have to catch up and really fast....

Let's go them tigers.....

Monday, June 23, 2008

Digesting Barcamp Nairobi 2008 - June 21 2008

The People:

We had all sorts of people :
  • bloggers
  • all sorts of programmers: web, mobile, etc
  • people in the telecoms industry
  • Govt represented by the ICT Board
  • photographers
  • students (even high school)
  • the plain curious

Courtesy of Ushahidi, we had about 120 Barcamp branded T-shirts available (based on those who'd signed up to get one) so apologies to those who didn't get one.

However, roughly 228 people showed up!

Great - lots of ladies came :)

Sessions and Topics:

We had 3 concurrent 30 minute sessions conducted in three rooms (Ushahidi Room, ICT Board room, and the Google Room) throughout the day. At the beginning of the sessions, in typical barcamp style, campers were asked to come forward and write down what they wanted to talk about, then the topics and agenda selected based on what people wanted to listen to. A bit like acclamation (politically) but not as noisy.

A rough listing of the resulting topics:

Room: Ushahidi
  • Buglabs session
  • Web apps with Jahazi
  • Wordpress optimization tips
  • GPS/Google Maps: S60 as a platform... and a bug
  • Developing for the iPhone
  • Internet/Network Security
  • Renewable Energy Kiosks & Impact on Rural IT

Room: ICT Board
  • Google Maps Session
  • CMS - Zope/Plone
  • Blogging Tricks
  • Open-e Data Storage
  • Application Development Procedures to code for Government
  • (web|mobile|you)
  • Bandwidth Management and Optimization

Room: Google Room
  • Where are the developers?
  • Software Localisation
  • Ubuntu and LTSP
  • Blogging for cash
  • Google Maps and Mobile applications
  • Linux as a development platform for engineers
  • Kiania's informal session :)

We also had a 'lightning session' lasting about 55 minutes where anyone with something say was welcome to for a 5 minute period. Here's the list.

  • Michuki - IETF & KIXP
  • Erik - Ushahidi recruiting
  • Kahenya - Creative Commons
  • Alex Gakuru - F/OSS organisations listing, ICT government study
  • Mike K - kenblogs
  • Stella - Fahamu - ICTs & Human Rights
  • Paul Kukubo - The Kenya ICT Board & Vision, goals.
  • Edward - Moi Uni
  • Limo - Data and records
  • Gee - Web design tips
  • KenyanPoet - Publishing
  • Gichingiri - sokoletu
  • James - Computers for Schools/e-waste management
  • Mike - Archiving, Record keeping
  • Anne - Law, defamation & blogging

  • Our main sponsors: Google, Ushahidi, Kenya ICT Board
  • Strategic Lee, Deep Space hosting
  • Wananchi for the free wifi
  • Openworld and KENET for projectors
  • Yahoo, O'Reilly, Wordpress for the giveaways
  • Bug Labs for letting us borrow one of their new BUGbundles
  • Brian Muita & Gichingiri for the snazzy poster
  • Eric (Magutu) for running around :)
  • Erik (Hash) for the great blogging
  • Mich for MC'ing
  • Everyone who helped organize, setup and clean up afterwards
  • Everyone who came :)
Some photos
Also check out Hash's blog

Monday, June 16, 2008

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Tuesday Meeting 10th June 2008: Commercializing Technology with Hafeez Bana

This past Tuesday Hafeez Bana gave talk on commercializing technology.

He started off with a brief overview of what he's been doing in the innovation programme at Deloitte in Australia. Over there they have something not much unlike Google where the employees are encouraged to work on their own projects during their free time and the company helps to commercialize them. He gave an example of a card verification system which uses numerical codes entered on a card with a small screen to authenticate transactions. In the talk he gave us a nice overview of some of the hurdles in the development process and its eventual implementation.

The main topic of his talk however was th J- Mango platform for mobile applications. It uses a simple scripting language to send mobile apps over the air to subscribers. The underlying framework is AOL and TCL server and makes use of Erlang and Java languages. It runs on Apache with a load balancing front end. He showed us a neat video of how to download an app from a QR code diagram using a camera phone- really cool!

After that we went into Q&A, lots of questions about technical details of J-mango and possible applications. One question that stood out and isn't new is how to protect your intellectual property especially in Kenya. Hafeez noted that unfortunately in Kenya people are not as eager to help you with your idea as in Europe or Australia. It's more likely that it'll be stolen here, something we definitely need to work on here.

Something else that came up on commercialization is how to split the gains with an investor for maximum benefit to the developer. Though it may look like a rip- off it may actually be more advantageous to give a big investor a larger stake as they could give you more mileage.

On the subject of mobile apps it was note that the operator have to be more open minded about revenue sharing with app developers. Hafeez noted that after a while ARPU from traditional services tends to flatline especially after a price war like the one we're having so the telcos have to diversify. A big battle lies ahead right there!

An interesting note was made of how women have goon insight in business example given women in Bangladesh and how they worked with Grameen bank. So to the ladies out their your contribution is important and you are encouraged to attend the meetings. It's worth noting that there was a good turn out this time- 3!

Al in all it was an informative chat especially for the entrepreneurs and we thank Hafeez for making the time to come.